In these unprecedented times, potential stressors are all around us. As if everyday stressors weren’t enough, COVID-19 continues to spread, and civil unrest has begun to follow suit, especially in America’s biggest cities. It’s a lot to deal with, leaving many people searching for effective methods to deal with stress and help them with the looming uncertainty.
And who could blame them? Unfortunately, not all coping mechanisms for stress are created equal, and the ways in which you cope can have a large impact on your physical health. Stress is such a wide-reaching issue in the U.S. that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even provides healthy coping tips on its website. For starters: “Take care of yourself.”
However, it’s possible to take stress relief too far. Some coping methods, including smoking and video gaming, come with the potential of addiction to the new activity. Thus, it’s good to be choosy in regards to how you deal with stress. Here’s what you need to know about stress and how to relax without fueling a dangerous addiction in the process.
Tips to Understand and Deal with Stress
In these hectic modern times, stress comes from myriad sources. Family life, long checkout lines at the grocery store, heavy traffic, and the workplace are just a few sources of everyday stress.
Certain stressors may impact you more than others, and they can compound on top of one another. Therefore, you should take the time to identify those that impact you the most, and target those stressors. For example, anxiety and stress can be elevated in the workplace and understanding the reasons why it is the first step towards stress relief.
When sorting through stressful emotions related to your job, you may find benefit in improving your time management and identifying any triggers associated with stress. You should also be mindful of the ways in which stress manifests in your body — and keep in mind that stress affects everyone differently.
What are the Symptoms of Stress?
As our individual stressors can vary significantly, the ways in which stress can manifest are highly personalized. When you’re stressed, you may experience racing thoughts and shortness of breath. Headaches, stomach problems, and difficulty making decisions are also common manifestations of stress.
Your chosen stress-relief methods should target your individual symptoms. And generally speaking, you’re likely to see long-lasting stress relief using healthy coping methods rather than those with bothersome or dangerous side effects.
Healthy Stress Relief Methods
Begin your stress relief journey by identifying various relaxing activities, including those that already bring you joy and/or fulfillment. The options for healthy stress relief are nearly endless, and you may see the most benefit by choosing methods that stimulate both body and mind.
Yoga has come a long way over the years. Once a niche activity associated with hippies and environmentalists, yoga is today a cornerstone of mainstream fitness. There are about 6,000 yoga studios across the U.S., and a full third of the population has practiced yoga at least once.
The ancient philosophy and methodology promotes both flexibility and stress relief and is typically used in tandem with other health and wellness methods. For many individuals, yoga is an integral part of holistic healing, encompassing body, and mind. It’s also increasingly convenient: As online instruction videos are widely available, yoga can even be practiced in the comfort of your own home.
Movie buffs may immediately identify “cardio” as the No. 1 rule for surviving Zombieland, as laid out by Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg). But cardio isn’t only useful for escaping the undead; any exercise that gets your heart pumping doubles as an effective mechanism to deal with stress.
No matter your fitness ability, there’s a cardio activity for you. Cardio training methods include swimming, cycling, and jogging. And even if you’re unable to perform those types of strenuous activities, you’ll be pleased to learn that walking is also considered a form of cardio. As you walk (or run) your way to stress relief, focus on your breathing, and make your exhale longer than your inhale.
You can also think outside the box when it comes to cardio. Dancing, for example, provides numerous health benefits and may even reduce your risk of developing age-related diseases such as dementia. Whether your preferred dancing style involves DJs or a salsa band, just getting out onto the dance floor can help kick your stress to the curb.
Gaming as a stress relief mechanism sounds too good to be true. Yet studies indicate that video games can help reduce negative emotions, including those associated with stress. According to Psychology Today, playing video games often induces a state similar to that of mindfulness meditation. Along with reducing stress, this meditative state can also improve your focus and cognitive flexibility.
Video games also allow you to temporarily step out of your stressful life and into a world where you can be virtually anything, from a city planner to a professional racecar driver, treasure hunter, and beyond. In the realm of stress relief, temporarily pushing your problems and stressors to the wayside can make a huge impact in the long run.
What to Omit From Your De-Stress Regimen
Of course, video games are potentially addictive, so it’s important to limit your playing time in order to avoid problems. Moderation is also key when it comes to several other common forms of stress relief, especially mind-altering substances like alcohol and nicotine.
The tendency to self-medicate is almost second nature for many who experience regular bouts of stress. And alcohol is one of America’s favorite forms of self-medication. That’s because, on a scientific level, alcohol consumption does indeed provide stress relief.
Alcohol is a sedative and depressant, and initially induces the flow of dopamine, our brain’s pleasure center. But excessive alcohol use actually does the opposite, and can ultimately cause anxiety rather than suppressing it.
Another popular vice that has also been shown to provide temporary stress relief is nicotine. Especially in the workplace, taking a smoke break outdoors can help alleviate tension and temporarily take your mind off of your problems and pending tasks.
Like alcohol, however, the repercussions of nicotine use far outweigh its stress-relief benefits. Whether you smoke or vape, a vice that is quickly gaining global momentum, regular nicotine use is accompanied by long-term neurological impacts and is highly addictive. Vaping comes with additional harmful effects, such as the possibility of a vape pen explosion from unstable lithium-ion batteries.
People who are under a lot of stress have a tendency to self-isolate, but this can be detrimental to your health. While making time for yourself is crucial to your mental wellbeing (increasingly referred to as “self-care”), it’s easy to go overboard when seeking alone time. Excessive social isolation can lead to depression, cognitive decline, impaired immunity, and more. Play your video games for a while, but make sure to put them aside from time to time in favor of social activities.
Connecting Body and Mind to Reduce Stress
As with any vice, sporadic use is relatively harmless, but dependency can develop quickly. To effectively liberate yourself from the shackles of stress, it’s in your best interest to eschew unhealthy coping methods for healthful options such as regular workouts, yoga, and self-care. When you focus on healthy ways to deal with stress, you’re more likely to live a longer, more fulfilling life.